Sunday, May 8, 2011

First Came a Plant

Today was my ‘early day’, the class I teach at 8AM. I always dread waking up to the music of my alarm, no matter how cheerful the music is. It wasn’t so bad this morning. That might have been because I spent a great day out yesterday with George and Yoyo (see previous entry).

This particular group of students is the hardest to manage. They just don’t seem interested in whatever lesson or activity I have planned for them. All 28 students cram themselves in the last 3 rows of the classroom; thus I am forced to abandon the blackboard or the computer unit in the front of class, and sit on a table two rows down from them to address them properly.

They are all very concerned about an important test they will have to take in June called CET4. Like the TM 4 for the English majors, the CET4 measures proficiency and skill for the Business English majors. This test centers on vocabulary and listening skills. The students have a list of 5,000 words that they must be able to spell, interpret and use in a sentence correctly in order to pass the test.

Most often, these kids are poring over their word list, and today was no exception. As a treat (and a break for me), I had decided to show them a movie to sharpen their listening skills. With dismay I noted that maybe only a third of the class was actually paying attention to the movie; the rest were working on their word list. Several times I had to remind them that they were supposed to be watching a movie; they were getting quite loud, conversing with each other. In Chinese, at that! And here I thought this was an English class.

On the positive side, they were all working on their word lists and at least hearing English being spoken. On the negative side, the movie went virtually unnoticed. I could tell because, when the funny parts came up, only one or two actually laughed. To be perfectly fair, the room was flooded with sunshine and, even with the curtains drawn, it was really too bright in there to see the screen well.

Are you wondering where the plant comes in yet? Why did I title this entry so? I’m getting to it!

After class I returned home, ate some breakfast and had a chat with my Gabriel. And then, while I was still dressed for outdoors I went to do my marketing for the week. Feeling very ‘Hausfrau’, with my shopping bag slung over my shoulder and wallet clutched in my hand, I made stops at the farmer’s market, the supermarket and the stationary shop (to buy notebooks). When I got home I changed clothes and started on the house. Sweeping, dusting, cleaning and putting a load of clothes in the machine to wash. Still feeling very much the hausfrau, I have to admit.

Setting my dining room chairs out on my patio, I took the quilt off my bed and stretched it out over the chair backs in the sunshine to air out. Today being one of the few days where dust wasn’t flying around Wuhan and the air was clear, I figured it was a good day to do so. I came back into the house and decided my plant needed its kiss of sunshine too, so I gave it some water and put it on the window sill.

I smiled with pleasure at these small tasks. The red of my quilt intensified the sun shining in through my window and my plant, with its new leaves, dressed my windowsill in homey pleasance.

An unformed thought skipped through my head as my gaze went from my little plant around the rest of my house. First came the plant, and then I hung a picture. I strolled into the kitchen. The new pot I had bought gleamed in the dishrack and fresh vegetables, today’s bounty from the farmer’s market lay on the counter, ready for cooking. The clean smell of bleach wafted from the bathroom, where I had just scrubbed. My bed, freshly made save for my quilt, waited only for nightfall to welcome me back into its embrace.

That’s how it starts, folks. First comes a plant, and then you hang a picture. Pretty soon you’re buying things for the house, and fussing over how much sunshine your quilt gets. Next thing you know, you have a home, not just a place to lay your head.

And that’s what it feels like to be here. Not just an apartment, but a home. MY home. I feel more ‘home’ here than I did in the home I was buying in America, than in the apartment I was renting prior to moving to China or pretty much anywhere I’ve lived in my entire life. This is my home. And the irony is that I don’t pay a thing for it; it is mine only on loan, as long as I have this job. And, I won’t even be in these same four walls next year; I’ll get a new apartment. But still; fussing about and doing my simple chores gives me a homey feeling. I like being here.

Now: what am I going to do about these students of mine? That is what the notebooks are for. I had noticed many of them using scraps of paper or the backs of their word list to make notes on. I bought each one a notebook so they can copy their wordlist into a composite document. Until their test, we will pursue activities that center around that all important test criteria, activities like spelling bees and word definitions. Their upcoming midterm exam will… have nothing to do with their spelling list. But I will make it easy on them. I only want the answer to one question, which they will each have to give orally:

Why do you sit in the back of the classroom?

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